As a new Grandma (or Farmor if I’m connecting to my Norwegian roots) AND with another grandbaby on the way, I’m especially concerned about the health and well-being of new mothers. Pregnancy and giving birth, though a natural and normal condition and experience, IS exceptionally taxing. I’m so thankful to Dr. Alisha Wilkes of Three Moons Widwifery for this important guest post. Make sure to share it with all new mothers, mothers-to-be and the grandparents that love them!
Yours in Play!
How You Feel Matters:
Mood Disorders in Pregnancy and Postpartum
Emotional and mental health are often overlooked during traditional pregnancy and postpartum visits, but we know that how a pregnant person feels has a significant impact on their physical health as well as the growth, development, and long-term health of their baby. Addressing mental health is vitally important to the health and well-being of pregnant folks, babies, and families!
You Are Not Alone!
Research indicates mood disorders during pregnancy and postpartum are not uncommon. Over 25% of pregnant folks have experienced some type of mood disorder over the past year and over 25% of folks who have had a baby experience a mood disorder within 12 months postpartum. The CDC reports 1 in 9 American women experience depression before, during, or after pregnancy and up 20% of those who have had a baby in the past year will experience depression.
Postpartum Depression (PPD)
Over the past decade awareness of postpartum depression has steadily increased. Although folks may experience many types of mood disorders during pregnancy and postpartum, depression is the most common and is often present along with other types of mood disorders.
Know the Signs
Many folks experience the “baby blues”. It is normal to feel overwhelmed, teary, emotional, fragile, and/or irritable over the first 2 weeks after having a baby. Having a baby is a huge adjustment, hormone levels change rapidly, bodies undergo many physical adjustments, relationships are changing, and there is a new person to care for and get to know. The major differences between the “baby blues” and depression are that the “baby blues” begin to resolve during the second week postpartum and symptoms are less severe than depression.
PPD and the “baby blues” share similar symptoms, but depression is more severe and lasts beyond 2 weeks postpartum. It is important to note that depression symptoms are unique to each individual. Folks may experience only one of those listed below, or a combination, or entirely different symptoms. The key is that the symptoms are interfering with daily life, occurring most of the time, and lasting longer than 2 weeks.
Some Signs & Symptoms of PPD
- Not feeling connected/bonded with baby
- Feeling overwhelmed; unable to care for yourself and/or baby
- Feeling guilty; thinking you should be doing better and/or feeling differently
- Withdrawing from family, friends, other children, baby
- Feeling irritable/angry, annoyed by everything/everyone
- Feeling worried all the time
- Feeling nothing/numb
- Loss of appetite
- Inability to sleep, even when baby is sleeping or being cared for
- Thoughts of running away
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- You know/feel something is wrong
- Your family and friends know/feel something is wrong
Postpartum psychosis is a true emergency! If you or a loved one experiences this call 911 right away! It is very rare, 0.1-0.2% of postpartum folks, and usually occurs within the first 2 weeks after birth.
Some Signs & Symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis:
- Loss of connection with reality
- Extreme irritability/agitation
- Irrational thoughts/behavior
- Seeing visions/hearing voices (hallucinations)
- Thoughts of harming baby
- Suicidal thoughts/actions
How to Cope & Get Help
Most importantly…. Ask for help!
Although the stigma surrounding “mental illness” still exists and many folks do not seek help for fear of judgement, it is important to reach out and seek help when experiencing mood disorders during pregnancy and postpartum.
- Bond/Connect with your baby!
Bonding is good for both parents and babies, it helps to regulate hormones, increases oxytocin (our love hormone), and creates secure attachment.
- Take care of yourself!
Make self-care a priority. Sleep when baby sleeps. Have someone care for your baby while you take a relaxing bath or shower. Take a walk (nature helps elevate our mood!). Eat nutritious meals and snacks regularly (your body needs nutrients to heal from birth).
- Create a support network!
Have folks you can call on when you need a break or someone to talk to. Have a friend or family member schedule a meal/housework/childcare train, etc. for you before the baby is born. Rely on your network to care for you and your family; let someone else do the dishes/laundry/shopping, etc. Reach out and ask for help!
Talk to your health care provider about your symptoms. Treatment for postpartum depression may include therapy/counseling, nutritional/supplemental support, hormonal support, and/or medications.
There are many resources available, including in-person and online support groups, crisis hotlines, education, research and more. Here are a few places to start:
If you or a loved one are in crisis, having suicidal thoughts, thoughts of harming someone else, etc., please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255
Helping a Loved One with PPD
The most important thing you can do if a loved one is experiencing PPD is offer support:
- Encourage them to talk about their feelings/experiences
- Offer to help with childcare, housework, cooking, shopping, etc.
- Encourage self-care
Take a walk with them, cook them a healthy meal, care for the baby while they nap or bathe (or both!), etc.
- Encourage them to seek professional inputProvide them with resources/referrals, help them make and get to appointments, etc.
- Care well for yourself!
This is especially true for co-parents/partners. Fathers/partners may experience postpartum depression as well; this is a major transformation for you too!
Bittner,A., Peukert,J., Zimmermann,C., Junge-Hoffmeister, J., Parker, L., Stobel-Richter,Y., Weidner, K. (2014). Early Intervention in Pregnant Women With Elevated Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms: Efficacy of a Cognitive-Behavioral Group Program. J Perinat Neonatal Nurs. 2014 Jul-Sep;28(3):185-95. doi: 10.1097/JPN.0000000000000027
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). Maternal Depression. http://www.cdc.gov/features/maternal-depression/index.html
Dr. Alisha H Wilkes DNP,CNM,ARNP is a doctorally prepared nurse-practitioner/nurse-midwife, specializing in women’s health, pregnancy, and postpartum. She welcomes questions and comments via email ThreeMoonsMidwifery@gmail.com or via phone 425-395-4768. More information about Dr. Wilkes and her practice are available at www.ThreeMoonsMidwifery.com